The NFL decided to change up the Pro Bowl format this year by making it non-conference based and appointing HOF’ers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders to be team captains who would “draft” their teams based on the Pro Bowl selected players. The Pro Bowl is no longer an AFC vs. NFC contest and advertises that it will give fans matchups they’ve never seen before. The idea behind this is to add interest to an otherwise meaningless game, a game that hasn’t suffered ratings-wise but has been under scrutiny for the past several years. Will it be a hit or miss for NFL fans?
The 2014 Pro Bowl “Draft” began Tuesday night with a coin toss and Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice selecting their team captains. Rice won the toss and selected Drew Brees and Robert Quinn while Sanders selected J.J. Watt and Jamaal Charles. The teams then alternated picks between Defensive Tackles, Guards, Centers, and Fullbacks. Long Snappers and Punters. The conclusion of the draft will be Wednesday evening. The format gives fans the chance to see two NFL legends essentially play out a fantasy football game in real life.
The problem is that no matter how much Goodell or others might have griped about the quality of play in the Pro Bowl in recent years, the ratings haven’t suffered at all. People were still tuning in to see a game that was often called “soft”. Didn’t seem like the fans themselves had any problems tuning into a game that doesn’t count for anything and didn’t feature any “real” football already, what’s the point of changing it up?
I’m not opposed to changing the format in the attempt to better the product. I think the NFL might, by the end of all this, had wished they went in a different direction than involving former players to be the team captains and in charge of setting the two teams that will play one another. Deion Sanders has already come out to say that he’s going to suit up and take the field unless Roger Goodell specifically tells him he cannot. This is a bit much for me. While I admit that I’m one of the nerds who will watch the Pro Bowl each year no matter what, I certainly don’t watch it to see old guys suit up to turn the whole thing into a bigger joke than it already is. This isn’t the Deion Sanders show, but the NFL put him in this position so they’ll have to deal with keeping him from hogging the camera time from the actual players who’ve been selected to play in this years’ Pro Bowl.
The other downside that this format does not improve upon is the fact that with it still being the week before the Super Bowl, there are more players that have to be replaced because they’re either on one of the Super Bowl teams, are having some type of scheduled off season surgery, or have some kind of injury in which they don’t want to exacerbate by playing in the game. By the time the game is played, some players are like the 4th or 5th replacement to the original player selected. Not a whole lot can be done to correct that, however. The game of football doesn’t lend itself to an exhibition all-star game that can be in any way similar to what the other major sports do.
In my opinion, this format adds something to the game we haven’t seen yet so I can’t help but think it will be at least a minor improvement. What will be interesting to see is just how much Deion Sanders plans to draw all the attention to himself by the time the game is over. I get that these guys were chosen, mostly because of their affiliation with the NFL Network (which will broadcast the game) but will also add an extra entertainment value to the game. We’ll see on Sunday if it makes the game more entertaining to watch or if the format would be better in the future without the use of “alumni” captains.